In the spirit of learning, connecting, and sharing I offer some of the insight I have gained from my work with Veterans and the dance/movement therapy approaches I use to support them in finding balance and feeling at home again. Here are five ways dance/movement therapy can support and empower Veterans.
(1) Provide psycho-education on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the fight/flight/freeze and relaxation responses, and the psychophysiological impact of stress.
Once an understanding of these psychological processes is established, the anxiety, guilt, and shame associated with them often decreases. This opens the door to connect cognition and body awareness, gain a sense of internal control, and to re-establish a sense of safety and security.
(2) Teach body-based skills and concepts for immediate life application.
Using structured body-based techniques can help a Veteran comfortably experience their body’s sensations and breathing patterns. Rituals are seen throughout military culture; the use of set movement structures can enable Veterans to establish new rituals for self-care. I often use Rudolph Laban’s One-Dimensional or Defense Scale, which is a coordinated pattern of inward and outward movements along the vertical, horizontal, and sagittal axes. While moving this scale, people are encouraged to attend to their breathing – often times corresponding inhales and exhales to specific movement directions. Laban reportedly witnessed this pattern used in martial arts to heighten safety by protecting the body with inward movements and defending against threats with outward movements (Bartenieff & Lewis, 2002). Veterans have reported that this scale has aided them in reducing thought-racing and has allowed them to feel stable in the present moment.
(3) Establish movement games and rituals to engage our Veterans’ strengths.
Our veterans have unique skills in analyzing, strategizing, adapting, and working as a team. Use movement interventions to create new physical, emotional, or behavioral challenges. Goal-oriented competitions can reduce hesitancy and physical tension by increasing playfulness, free flow, laughter, and a sense of achievement is often missing in a time of distress.
(4) Use a combination of verbal and movement-based affirmations.
Audibly and physically claiming success creates a full sensory experience of one’s power and energy. Shift negative perceptions and shame by embodying positivity and confidence.
(5) Use physical exercises chosen by the Veteran to engage the core and feel muscular strength.
Physical exercise, as in physical training (PT), is familiar to our Veterans and using exercises can help them tap into the resources and coping skills they already have.
Bartenieff, I., with Lewis, D. (2002). Body Movement: Coping with the Environment. New York: Routledge.